Reflections from Israel

‘Have you heard of the routing app, Waze? It’s Israeli.’ my driver asked me, as I got in the car en route to the airport for my flight home.  I could see the app predicting my arrival at the airport at 6:14pm, a full three hours before my flight.  I loathed this seeming waste of time – a common phrase in my pre-CBS consulting career was ‘if you’ve never missed a flight, you’re getting to the airport to early’.  But, we had been warned about the Tel Aviv Airport Security, and after accidentally going to Newark airport instead of JFK on my way to Israel, I couldn’t risk another stressful airport experience.  I replied that No, I hadn’t heard of Waze and wondered if it was really that much better than Google Maps?

When my driver asked me how I had enjoyed his country, it was hard not to conceal my new found love for Israel. The food, the entrepreneurial spirit, the history… so many things flooded my mind.  But being back in the states and reflecting on my trip, my favorite aspect by far is the people.

The Israeli culture is rich with history, religious background, and stories of both oppression and hope.  And what I didn’t appreciate until my trip was the clear camaraderie that binds Israelis together.  Whether this is because the nation is relatively young, because of the history of what the Israeli people have been through, or because of something else, is unclear.  But the immediate closeness I witnessed time and again amongst Israelis was undeniable.

Over the course of the trip, we visited many companies. Three companies talked to us about the same recent sale of an Israeli start-up (Mobileye) to Intel for $15 Billiion.  Even my cab driver brought it up to me.  Most people spoke about the value of their army experience.  And everyone talked about being focused on continuous improvement and their own internal hope.

Coming from the states, a country that in so many ways is about diversity, it’s striking to see such a degree of similarity across Israelis. I look forward to my next (and hopefully soon!) trip to Israel to further uncover its culture.  And for the record, we pulled up to my gate at precisely 6:14.

Haley Smith, ’18 – Group A, #Israel #IsraelChazen

Israel: a modern day miracle?

Haley Smith ’18: Israel, Section A

It’s hard not to be surprised when you consider the success story of Israel as a nation. Their neighbors are generally unsupportive of them as a country.  Israel is a young nation, being established in only 1948, and thus has had less time to develop expertise and processes, strong academic institutions or global companies.  Beyond this, amongst their population there are large amounts of conflicts, specifically regarding Holy Sites (which also happen to be some of the biggest tourism draws for the country).  This conflict and ensuing safety concerns by tourists have the potential to put much of their tourism industry at risk.

So, what explains Israel’s success? After all, despite these barriers they have top academic institutions, push the limits on cutting edge technology, have one of the most successful start-up communities in the world, and have an incredibly high caliber military system.  Could it be that Israel’s youth works to its advantage?  Maybe Israel actually has the same type of edge that nimble start-ups have over legacy corporations.  Israel is smaller but more agile, able to adjust quickly in changing fortunes.  Israel is also not wed to legacy processes or habits as many other governments and agencies are.  In fact, Israel is explicitly focused on quite the opposite – continuous improvement, which means constant change.

This focus on continuous improvement came up time and time again. At every speaking engagement and in an incredible amount of anecdotes, we consistently heard the value Israelis place on constantly being open to criticizing and improving existing processes.

At a start-up, the CEO was constantly asking how he could improve his radar technology and make it less expensive.  The Mayor of Jerusalem was questioning how he could scale the capacity for structured tourism in Jerusalem.  When we met a woman from a rural area by the Dead Sea, she was questioning how she could further her career beyond what was normal for her micro-society (for the record, she’s already learned English and written a book in a community where most women don’t finish high school).  Even a student leader from our trip sat down on Day 2 to ask me ‘Is this trip the best it could be?  How could we be making this better?’

Most potently, when we visited the air force base, pilots told us about the Israeli Military’s improvement charts, which articulate mistakes made by cadets. The charts require cadets to openly state every single mistake that happened, what caused it, and how to avoid it the following mission.  Our speaker stated ‘A mistake made twice is unacceptable.’  Even when a mission goes perfectly, the officers discuss how it could have been even better.  One officer said this has been so deeply ingrained in him by the army that every time he parks a car, he looks at the lines to evaluate how tidily and efficiently he parked his car.

What I appreciate most about this focus on continuous improvement is that we saw it sincerely everywhere. And as I consider how I would describe my time in Israel – it’s the learnings like these that I value most.  Because yes, the sites have been breath-taking, the spiritual history has been fascinating, and the food has been indescribable.  But more than anything, the people have been inspiring.  The Israeli focus on hard work, innovation, and continuous improvement is more than enough to take home with me.

Haley Smith ’18: Israeli Connections

They say the world is connected through six degrees of separation. And this makes sense.  When you think about the well-connected people we’ve met (professors, guest speakers, bosses) it’s easy to hypothesize just how far our networks probably reach.

In Israel, they say the number is two degrees of separation (or ‘maybe one and a half’ according to our tour guide). The country of Israel and the Israeli people are incredibly interconnected in a meaningful way.  In many senses, this is intuitive.  Israel is a generally homogeneous country – of the roughly 9 million people living in Israel, about 75% are of Jewish descent (the remainder is generally Arab, with less than 5 being non-Arab, non-Jewish).  The country is also relatively small and has a high population density (on par with New Jersey, which is the most densely populated US state).  Between this population density and 92% of Israelis living in urban areas, connecting with one another becomes easier and more frequent.  And finally, Israeli cultural norms and religious beliefs create more opportunities for connection.  Take the compulsory military service for example: for every Israeli, it becomes an additional networking opportunity, introducing individuals to peers and mentors to later call upon for advice, funding, or connections.

Okay, but what does this interconnectedness really mean? To put this in context, it means that a VC fund we visited in Tel Aviv can easily compete with funds in Silicon Valley because of the caliber and reputation of The Tel Aviv VC fund’s network.  It means that one start-up we visited has hired the majority of its 50 person team through friends rather than through a hiring agency.  It means another start-up we visited, whose first round of funding (a casual $9 million) took one week (and one connection) to raise.  And last, (but certainly not least), in the words of one of my Israeli fellow students, it means ‘Guys treat women here very well – because word travels fast if you don’t’.  But what this all adds up to (sans the dating implications), is that work and progress in Israel is accelerated: less time hiring, raising money, finding experts means less time preparing to do your job and more time actually doing value-add work.  It’s easy to see why Israel is so well known for innovation.

Next stop, Jerusalem.

Haley Smith ’18: Pre-Israel, Purim Prep

Costume parties have never really been my forte, but I’ve learned to accept them as they occupy a surprisingly large amount of my social calendar in b-school. So, when I learned that our first night in Israel was the celebration of Purim and that costumes were highly recommended by our trip leaders, I felt like it was par for the course.  No part of me doubted that Purim was a legitimate holiday and that celebrating it was very normal.  A significant part of me doubted whether or not costumes were truly necessary for said celebration.

Regardless of the validity of the costume requirement, it’s better to be safe than sorry – I needed a costume. As any well-seasoned Business School student will tell you, costume strategy requires tradeoffs.  Be clever, but not so clever that most people don’t really get it.  Be comfortable, but nice enough to get in anywhere. Make it look like a real costume, but avoid dedicating too much suitcase space to the costume as the trip is 10 days.  Solving for one of these is hard.  Solving for all of these (especially in under 24 hours, for under $20) requires a small miracle.

Given that it was recently International Women’s Day, was there a strong female I could channel for my costume? Could I incorporate Purim history for extra ‘clever’ points?  Turns out, yes and yes.  Purim celebrates an incredible, brave, and strong woman – Esther.  For those of you unfamiliar with Esther, here is the abridged version:

It is roughly 470 B.C. and Israel is under the rule of King Ahaseurus (who generally owns everything between India and Ethiopia, by the way). As the King is searching for a new Queen, Esther is chosen as a potential candidate because of her great beauty.  Beyond her physical form, she is also wise and humble, which wins her the King’s great favor and the role of Queen.

As Esther assumes her new role, Haman, King Ahaseurus’ right hand man, develops a hatred for the Jews and is able to convince the King to kill all the Jewish people under his reign. Unbeknownst to either the King or Haman, Esther is a Jew.  These are her people.

Though she has found favor with the king, Esther is unsure how to respond to this decree. At that time in history, anyone who approached the King without being summoned risked a high likelihood of being executed; requesting the King to revoke a decree would have felt like certain death.  Should she remain quiet and save her lineage, or speak up – likely dying herself but potentially saving her people?

In her distress, Esther seeks the counsel of her uncle, Mordecai – whose answer is definitively that she must risk her life for the opportunity to save her people. ‘For who knows that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this’ Mordecai asks her, reminding her of the responsibility that comes with power and resources.  What if this is the whole reason you were chosen? What if this is your purpose?  Esther successfully appeals to the king, rescuing her people from destruction.

Unfortunately, costumes of Esther weren’t easy to come by in the states – so my costume for Purim is still TBD. But the inspiration of a strong woman – costume party or not – is always in style.

Haley Smith ’18

Israel – Section A